It’s no secret that runners need strong hips in order to run happily and pain-free. But how does one discern if they have adequate strength and if not, how to strengthen in a way that translates to better running? This is the tricky part. A simple youtube search for ‘hip strength for runners’ turns up all kinds of results with lots of great ideas. The important thing to consider is finding the ones that make a difference for you. It’s critical to have some way to determine if the exercise you’ve done has made the improvement you desire.
This brings us to Jonathan’s story. He recently completed a standout career at the NCAA D1 level. Toward the end of this last season he had trouble with his form breaking down and especially his right leg seizing up at the end of races. Here is video of him initially.
And another running at a faster/tempo pace.
What stands out is the asymmetry of his arms (left hand higher than right), as well as the excessive rotational movement of his hips during the respective landing/loading phases. These are somewhat subtle, but for a runner of Jonathan’s caliber, they can make a huge difference.
If you’ve followed the blog, you’ve likely seen stories where the arms are telling a story for what’s going on in the hips. In Jonathan’s case, seeing his arms behave like that indicates that his hips are not making the transition from loading to push-off as quickly or efficiently as they should, especially on the right side. This can be a huge cause of knee, calf, IT band, and hamstring dysfunction, any of which can derail a runner.
So, what to do about it. He has been diligently stretching his hips and calves for several weeks now. So the focus of today’s session was on firing up his hips so they will work more efficiently. First, a simple single leg squat with the arms pre-positioned to make the right gluts work harder.
Secondly, a modified bounding drill with the same arm movements, again to increase the leverage of the upper body and force the gluts to work harder.
Another version is simply to jump side to side with the arms doing the same thing. This will help him do the ‘Thriller’ next chance he gets!
We also had him run with his arms in the loaded position with small free weights to the right only, in order to balance out and specifically target the right side.
And lastly, simply running with the hands straight overhead holding the free weights. This takes the arms out of the picture as stabilizers in the frontal plane (side to side) movements, and instead makes them a liability, especially with the extra weight creating extra leverage. This forces the gluts to respond more quickly, which translates to more efficient running.
After all this, here’s the new and improved Jonathan!
And again at a faster/tempo pace.
Notice that his arm swing is more symmetrical and his elbows are not sticking out to the side as much. Also, his hip movement is more efficient, as they are not rotating out to the side as dramatically. Again, these are signs that his hips are working better, which should be the goal of any hip strengthening exercises that you do.
With constant practice of these and similar exercises, his running career will continue in great form. Excellent job Jonathan!